27 Most Frightening Murders That Happened Around Christmas ‌

Christmas is about many things. Spending time with family and friends. Showing kindness to everyone around you, even the people who are strangers. If you're a spiritual person, perhaps you enjoy celebrating your religious beliefs with others who also share them. Nearly everyone has the day off and gets to relax. There's even food and presents.

Christmas is the one day a year when people are mostly decent to each other. It's a special day when humanity proves that sometimes it's not all bad. At least on the surface.

Christmas Day is just another day on the calendar, and bad things can happen to you at any time. There's a reason why emergency services don't get the day off, too — the world doesn't stop just because it's December 25. Accidents happen, people get sick, and yes, crimes are committed. In fact, some incredibly horrifying crimes have been perpetrated during the holiday season.

This article contains references to physical and sexual abuse, suicide, and hate crimes.

JonBenét Ramsey

In the hours between December 25 and 26, 1996, JonBenét Ramsey, a 6-year-old child beauty pageant winner, went missing from her own home in Boulder, Colorado, according to CNN. The next morning, her parents found a ransom note demanding $118,000 for her return. The Ramseys called the police, who found no evidence of forced entry. While searching the house for clues as to how someone kidnapped JonBenét, John Ramsey made a terrible discovery — his daughter had been murdered and her body was abandoned in the basement.

JonBenét was found to have died by strangulation and had a skull fracture. Police initially suspected John and Patricia Ramsey of killing their own child and staging the ransom note to cover up the crime, according to History. However, after a very public investigation of the two, they didn't find enough evidence to prove this theory and cleared the Ramseys as suspects. 

They then focused on another possibility — an intruder who snuck into the house during the night, intending to kidnap JonBenét but accidentally killing her instead, at which point the intruder fled. This approach, too, has proven to be vexing, and the investigation has since stalled. To this day, the case has never been solved.

The Lawson family

On December 25, 1929, in Germanton, North Carolina, the Lawson family was having a peaceful Christmas. Charlie Lawson, a sharecropper, had gotten enough money together to take his wife and seven children out to buy new clothes and even had family photos taken — a pretty good Christmas considering the Great Depression had begun earlier the same year.

But then, something no one could have predicted happened, and historians and researchers still don't completely understand it — Charlie decided, for reasons unknown, to kill his entire family. He shot two of his younger daughters as they were leaving to visit their aunt and uncle, according to the Greensboro News & Record. He then shot his wife, who was sitting on the front porch, went inside and killed his oldest daughter and two younger sons, and finally murdered his infant daughter last. Afterward, he went into the nearby woods and died by suicide.

You might have noticed Lawson only killed six of his seven children. For equally mysterious reasons, Charlie sent his oldest son, Arthur, on an errand right before he began the killing. No motive was ever determined for the killing, nor were his reasons for sparing Arthur. One rumor alleges Charlie was molesting his oldest daughter, Marie, and she was pregnant. Thus, he killed his family out of shame and guilt. This hasn't been proven, however, and Marie was not noted to be pregnant during her autopsy.

Silvestre Diaz-Hernandez

Housing can be tough to find for a student, especially in the last several years, and while Christmas may be about goodwill toward those around you, sometimes a situation is simply not sustainable. This was the situation 18-year-old Alexis Valdez found himself in on Christmas Day, 2013. Valdez had been staying with his aunt and her boyfriend, Silvestre Diaz-Hernandez, who allowed him to live in their apartment as long as he remained in school, worked, and helped out with the bills, according to CBS Chicago.

At some point, though, Valdez quit school and his job and wasn't upholding his part of the bargain any longer. His aunt and her boyfriend decided to ask him to leave. It was bad timing, seeing as it was Christmas, but Valdez seemed to take it extra hard considering what happened next.

He confronted his aunt's boyfriend, and things quickly turned violent. In his anger, Valdez killed Diaz-Hernandez with a hammer, mutilated his body by removing all of his limbs, and then decapitated him (also disfiguring his face in the process), leaving his head in Valdez's aunt's bed. He later described this as a "present." Valdez called the police and told them exactly what happened and fully admitted to the murder when police arrived. They found him covered in blood. Reportedly, Valdez later said he would have killed his aunt, too, had she been home.

Emma Carico and siblings Robert and Fannie Gibbons

One of the most terrible crimes committed during the Christmas season didn't even happen in the 20th century. In the wee hours of Christmas Eve 1881, in Ashland, Kentucky, Emma Carico was staying with her friends and next-door neighbors, Robert and Fannie Gibbons, according to Sword and Scale. All three were young adults, still in their teens, and enjoyed one another's company. With Emma's mom just next door, it seemed like a perfectly safe night away from home.

At some point between December 23 and December 24, though, something horrible happened. Three men carrying axes burst into the home and savagely murdered the trio. As if that weren't enough, they set the house on fire, too. Emma Carico's mother saw the flames from next door and called for help. The ax-wielding men had fled, and in the remains of the fire, the townspeople found the charred bodies of Emma and the Gibbons.

No definitive motive was ever discovered for the crime, but a man named George Ellis did confess, implicating his two partners, William Neal and Ellis Craft. All three were locked up in a secure location due to fears that a lynch mob might come and kill them. A year later, Neal and Craft were sentenced to hang and Ellis to life in prison. But this time, the lynch mob did come for Ellis, and he was killed the night of his conviction.

Gianni Belvedere

Gianni Belvedere was talking to his cousin on the phone, waiting in the parking lot of a Macy's in Mission Valley, California. It was the early hours of Christmas Eve morning, 2013, and Gianni had come to pick up his fiancée, Ilona Flint, who worked there. At the time, Macy's was staying open extra late to cater to last-minute shoppers. 

As Gianni was waiting, a man approached, shot, and killed him, then stole his car, according to NBC San Diego. The man, Carlo Mercado, drove Gianni's car to his own house, even filling it with gas, but soon came back to Macy's for his motorcycle, which had broken down nearby.

Once there, Mercado encountered Flint and Gianni's brother Sal, who were searching for him. They saw Gianni's car, but quickly realized it wasn't him driving. Mercado killed them both. Police later arrested Mercado and expected to hear some sort of explanation for the shootings, but there wasn't one — Mercado had never met them. There was a theory that Gianni's murder was tied to a road rage incident, but this was never confirmed and Mercado wouldn't comment. Authorities ended up declaring the killings a "random act of violence."

The Ortega family

There are a number of horror movies, often of questionable quality, set around Christmas time and featuring a killer in a Santa Claus outfit. But that's just fiction, right? Mostly, yes, but it has happened more than once, and not in a silly, over-the-top bit of B-horror way.

On December 24, 2008, the Ortega family of Covina, California, was sitting down for Christmas Eve dinner and enjoying family time, according to Oxygen. That's when Bruce Pardo, the ex-husband of Sylvia Ortega, showed up. Pardo, wielding multiple firearms, immediately began firing at his former in-laws, all while dressed as Santa Claus. When he was done with this monstrous act, he used a homemade flamethrower to burn the Ortega's house to the ground. In all, nine members of the Ortega family, including Pardo's ex-wife, were dead by gunshot or fire. Pardo died by suicide at his brother's home hours later.

If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline​ by dialing 988 or by calling 1-800-273-TALK (8255)​.

Harry and Harriette Moore

The early Civil Rights movement was fraught with danger. Speaking up against oppression against Black people when there were far fewer voices echoing yours meant you were always a target, like Harry and Harriette Moore, a married couple from Florida who counted themselves among the loudest voices of the early 1950s.

At home in Mims, Florida, to celebrate Christmas on December 25, 1951, the Moores didn't expect anything unusual. Of course, that's when the worst things tend to happen. It was not only Christmas, but also their 25th wedding anniversary, and they celebrated with their young daughter. But tragedy struck that night. A bomb placed under the floorboards of their home detonated, killing both Harry and Harriette, but sparing their daughter, who was in another part of the house when the bomb exploded, according to History.

Who would be so cruel as to commit a terrorist act on Christmas? The Ku Klux Klan, of course, hoping to silence the Moores. It wasn't even a mystery. Police figured it out pretty quickly, but, unfortunately, were unable to arrest the perpetrators before their deaths. Two of the suspects died of natural causes within a year, while a third committed suicide after being interviewed twice by the FBI. The Klan made a big mistake, though — killing the Moores only empowered the Civil Rights movement, lighting a fire under the cause and spawning numerous protests and nationwide anger toward the murderers.

If you or a loved one has experienced a hate crime, contact the VictimConnect Hotline by phone at 1-855-4-VICTIM or by chat for more information or assistance in locating services to help. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911.

Kristy Bamu

During the holiday season of 2010, 15-year-old Kristy Bamu and his four siblings left Paris to stay at the home of their oldest sister, Magalie, who lived in London, according to the BBC. It seemed like a lovely family get-together during the Christmas season. But things got out of control fast, and Kristy died on Christmas Day. This was merely the tragic end of his long ordeal, though, and the things leading up to his death were pure horror.

Magalie Bamu, 29, had taken up with a boyfriend, Eric Bikubi, and the two shared an apartment together. Things seemed normal at first, but an unknown incident caused Eric to accuse Magalie's siblings of performing kindoki, a type of witchcraft purported to be practiced by evildoers in their home country of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. While he initially pointed fingers at all of Magalie's siblings, he soon focused specifically on Kristy.

This began a days-long nightmare where Kristy was tortured with knives, pliers, and, grotesquely, a hammer and chisel. Eric claimed to be trying to exorcise Kristy, and all the while, his sister Magalie stood by and did nothing. Eric eventually drowned Kristy in the bathtub. In the aftermath, Eric claimed that he had brain damage that caused him to believe Kristy was a witch. Magalie denied any belief in witchcraft, making her inaction even more horrifying. Both were sentenced to life in prison for the crime.

Kashmier James

On December 25, 2010, in Los Angeles, California, a horror was unfolding. Kashmier James, a 25-year-old nurse, was visiting a friend for Christmas with her 3-year-old daughter Niveah, in tow, according to L.A. Weekly. After spending some time with loved ones, Kashmier and Niveah got back into the car, with Niveah placed in a car seat in the back. Kashmier was climbing into the driver's seat when three males pulled up next to her and murdered her in a drive-by shooting.

Niveah was unharmed but saw the whole thing. At a press conference where police announced a search for the killers, someone passed Niveah a microphone, where she heartbreakingly asked the crowd to, "please help [her] mommy." Police did eventually track down the killers and brought them to justice, but what they found out in the process was even more terrible.

The murderers were 16-year-olds participating in a gang killing, but that's not the horrifying part — they killed Kashmier James by mistake. They had misidentified her as their intended victim. She had been in the wrong place at the wrong time, and so a young child's mother was violently killed in front of her on Christmas — all based on mistaken identity and some very unfortunate timing.

Dayton, Ohio murders

Christmas Eve, 1992 was just the beginning of a multi-day crime spree committed in Dayton, Ohio, which included murder and robbery. Things started relatively small but quickly spiraled out of control until December 26, 1992, when the perpetrators were finally caught, according to the Dayton Daily News. It began with Marvallous Keene, 19, his girlfriend Laura Taylor, 16, and their friend Heather Matthews, 20. The three planned to rob an associate, Joseph Wilkerson.

After breaking into Wilkerson's home and tying him up, Keene and Taylor found a gun in the home and used it to kill the man they were only there to rob. This was the inciting event that seemed to instill a bloodlust in the three. They added DeMarcus Smith, 17, to their group and began joy-killing strangers, such as Danita Gullete, who was merely talking on a payphone when the group came across her and killed her in cold blood.

Taylor and Matthews both called their ex-boyfriends, escalating to attacking people known to them. One was injured when Matthews shot him, the other was executed by Taylor while the man was driving, requiring Taylor to dive out of the moving vehicle before it crashed. The crew ended things by killing two friends who the group thought might implicate them. The four were apprehended the following morning, December 26. Taylor, Matthews, and Smith are serving life sentences. Keene was executed in 2009. He had no final words.

Ronald Gene Simmons' family

On December 22, 1987, Dover, Arkansas resident Ronald Gene Simmons began making phone calls to his children, arranging for them to come visit him with their own families over the holidays. While this would be wholesome under ordinary circumstances, Simmons had something very disturbing in mind, according to All That's Interesting.

Over the next several days, as his children and their families arrived at previously scheduled times, Simmons began methodically killing each group as they showed up. This bloody work took four days, and by December 26, Simmons had killed 14 members of his own family, lining their bodies up in neat rows. One of his victims was a daughter he had sexually abused for years and had even given birth to a child sired by Simmons — this information becoming public is believed to have been a motivating factor in the crimes. On December 27, Simmons merely sat at home, drinking beer and watching TV.

December 28 saw him back at his rampage, though. He traveled to the nearby town of Russellville. He visited his old workplaces, killing two and wounding four. He also stopped to murder a woman who had recently rejected his advances. At his last stop, Simmons simply sat and waited for police to arrive after his deeds, chatting with workers there. He was found guilty, sentenced to death, and executed by lethal injection less than three years later, on June 25, 1990.

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN's National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

Alan Williamson

For many who are fortunate enough to be on good terms with their neighbors, the holidays are a time to share family and cultural traditions, and let's be honest: Who doesn't love to get a surprise tray of cookies? But in 2014, the BBC reported on a shocking escalation between neighbors in Edinburgh, Scotland.

According to the BBC, 37-year-old Melissa Young approached her neighbor, 47-year-old Alan Williamson, with a Christmas present. Williamson was in her apartment when she offered him a pair of sneakers and a calendar, and when he refused the gift, she would later testify that she had been possessed by a heavenly spirit. It was the Archangel Michael who had entered her with a flash of light, she said. Then, she heard voices telling her that she needed to defeat the demon that had taken possession of Williamson, and while she admitted she had stabbed her neighbor 29 times, she also claimed "abnormality of mind."

Court documents revealed that Young had called emergency services while Williamson was still alive — he was recorded in the background of the call, pleading to be let out of her apartment. During the trial, Young was diagnosed with a mixed personality disorder that included "emotionally unstable (borderline) narcissistic, histrionic, and anti-social traits," and schizophrenia. Her defense appealed her sentence of 20 years to life, and the appeal was refused.

Billy Lyons

When Lloyd Price (pictured) died in 2021 at 88 years old, NPR called it the end of an era. Price was one of the last living artists from a vibrant, post-war music scene that pre-dated the mainstream greats of the 1950s (like Elvis). One of his most popular songs was "Stagger Lee," and it was based on the true story of a Christmas-time fight and murder that happened in 1895.

According to Missouri Life, two locals named Billy Lyons and Lee Shelton came to blows in a saloon in North St. Louis. Lyons — a levee worker — argued with Shelton, an enterprising sort who did double duty as a carriage driver and one of a group of pimps called macks, known for their fancy clothes — and that's important to the story. Shelton was commonly known as Stagolee, or Stackalee, and to really set the scene, it's important to also know that he was frequently spotted around the city's red-light district, Deep Morgan, and its most popular brothel, the Bucket of Blood.

Unlike the song, Shelton and Lyons weren't gambling, they were arguing politics when Lyons made a grab for Shelton's flashy — and pricey — Stetson hat. Lyons refused to give it back, and was overheard saying, "I'm going to make you kill me!" So, that's what Shelton did, shooting him once in the abdomen after hitting him with his .44. Also unlike the song, Shelton wasn't executed. He was sentenced to 25 years but was out on parole in 1909, dying of tuberculosis just three years later.

Sameena Imam

Many workplaces have rules against coworkers getting romantically involved, but according to Vice, that's exactly where the story of Roger Cooper and Sameena Imam started. The former was a Costco manager and the latter a regional head for Costco — which forbids romantic involvement — when they started seeing each other. The relationship had been going on for about two years when Cooper finally promised that he was going to leave his long-term girlfriend for her, and at the same time, he was making promises that after Christmas, things were going to be different, the prosecution at the following murder trial would say he was also consulting with his brother on how best to kill her.

Testimony would allege that the first attempt on her life came on Dec. 12, 2014, and when that didn't go as planned, it was moved to Christmas Eve. That was when they left work separately, met up, and headed off on a holiday ... but first, they had to make a quick stop to see Cooper's brother.

That was the last time anyone heard from Imam, who was quickly reported missing by her family. Her car was found on Jan. 4, and it didn't take long for police to track her movement via her phone. Her body was discovered where she had been buried in a Leicester allotment, and the Cooper brothers were arrested on Jan. 7. According to the BBC, the brutal premeditation demonstrated at the trial led to a guilty verdict and a minimum sentence of 30 years for both brothers.

The Wholaver murders

The Christmas Eve 2002 murder of Jean Wholaver and her daughters — 20-year-old Victoria and 15-year-old Elizabeth — started with an arrest. According to The McShane Firm, Jean's husband, Ernest Wholaver, had been arrested on charges of sexually assaulting his daughters. Released on $100,000 bail amid his defense attorney's promise that he wasn't a flight risk, he was also ordered to stay away from the family.

But his brother, Scott, would later testify that he had driven Ernest to the Harrisburg, Pennsylvania home where his wife and daughters were living and stayed in the car while Ernest went into the house. Jean, Elizabeth, and Victoria were discovered in the home on Christmas Day, each killed by a single gunshot to the head. (Also in the home was Victoria's unharmed 9-month-old baby.)

The prosecution testified that Ernest Wholaver had been afraid that his daughters were going to testify against him in the trial resulting from their accusation that he had been sexually assaulting them for years. Brother Scott was found guilty of third-degree murder and sentenced to 12.5 to 25 years in prison, while Ernest was found guilty of murder and handed the death penalty. His execution has been repeatedly delayed: In 2012, PennLive reported that he was asking to have the rape charges dismissed, and in 2021, documents were still being filed with the courts.

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN's National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

Sharon Aydelott

It was on Christmas Eve of 2013 that Randy Aydelott walked into Sharon Aydelott's Florida home and found her where she lay. The Pensacola News Journal reported that she had been killed by multiple blows from a baseball bat and multiple stab wounds from a kitchen knife, and on Dec. 28, a judge set a $1 million bond for their son, William Brandon.

The high school senior had almost immediately been arrested for the murder, and according to further reporting from the PNJ, it wasn't until an Oct. 2016 trial that a psychiatrist explained to the courtroom that he had diagnosed Brandon as having schizophrenia. The doctor said further that he was prone to auditory hallucinations — including ones that told him that he needed to kill his mother — and said that, yes, releasing him into society was a very bad idea.

Although he confessed to the killing with an explanation of how he'd been mad that his mother had insisted on enrolling him in a substance abuse program, he was ultimately found not guilty by reason of insanity. It's also worth mentioning just what that means: Attorneys and psychiatrists argued that he literally saw nothing wrong with what he was doing, and in Brandon's own words, he confessed that the killing felt "Like I did the right thing." Sentenced to the Florida State Hospital in Chattahoochee, Brandon continues to undergo treatment and regular evaluations.

Tricia McCauley

Tricia McCauley was a long-time Washington, D.C. resident, and her friend, Kate Debelack, described her like this (via CBS News): "She is one of the kindest and most gentle people that I know. So to think that someone could have harmed her is awful."

It was her friends that first knew something was very wrong, and they reported her missing when she didn't show up to a Christmas party. After several days of searching, the BBC reports that her car was discovered where it had been parked on a D.C. street, with her body inside. A canvas of the area and a confrontation at a CVS led to police seizing the keys to the car and some of her credit cards from a man named Duane Adrian Johnson, who later claimed that he had picked McCauley up, engaged in consensual sex, then alleged that she had decided to die by suicide. Johnson added that he had continued to drive around with her in the back seat because he thought she was asleep.

In November 2017, The Washington Post reported that Johnson ultimately admitted to killing McCauley after randomly running into her on the street, then beating and sexually assaulting her. While his attorneys argued for leniency based on addiction and a history of mental illness, he was sentenced to 30 years in prison.

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN's National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

Za'Zell Preston

In 2011, Za'Zell Preston had two daughters — 3 and 8 years old — and a newborn son. According to The Orange County Register, Preston and her husband, William Wallace, had just returned home from a Christmas party when they started to argue. Her oldest daughter testified that after Wallace pushed Preston through a glass table, she helped her mother remove the glass before Wallace picked her up, carried her into the bathroom, and dropped her. The next time they say they saw their mother was when she was sitting on the sofa: Wallace ordered them to open their presents, saying, "Mommy ruined Christmas, she got drunk and ruined Christmas."

Prosecutors would go on to argue that her death came at the end of a history of domestic violence incidents, with Preston's family testifying to his history. In 2021, her older daughter testified about that Christmas morning: "I remember trying to touch my mom and she was just rock hard, cold, and I said, 'Mommy,' and she didn't respond."

While there were a variety of charges on the table, a jury opted to convict Wallace of second-degree murder. At his sentencing, Preston's mother appealed: "He beat and tortured my daughter and at the same time mentally assassinated her children. He showed her no mercy. Let's show him no mercy." He was given 15 years to life in prison.

If you or someone you know is dealing with domestic abuse, you can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−7233. You can also find more information, resources, and support at their website.

Stephanie Kilhefner

On Dec. 26, 2014, CBS News reported on a brutal murder that had taken place on Christmas Eve. According to authorities, they had received a phone call from Dustin Lee Klopp, who first took his two children to his parents for a Christmas celebration, then called to report a body at their Lancaster, Pennsylvania home. Law enforcement quickly found the body of Klopp's wife, Stephanie Kilhefner.

The information from the District Attorney was scarce, but he did say that he'd never before heard of a situation where they'd gotten a confession via phone call before even being aware that anything had happened. Retracing the series of events, law enforcement said that it became apparent Klopp and Kilhefner had argued, Klopp had hit her and then grabbed a knife to cut her throat before hitting her multiple times with an ax.

In March 2015, Klopp was being held in the Lancaster County Prison when he attempted to die by suicide. Lancaster Online reported that he was later declared brain dead, and removed from life support.

If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline​ by dialing 988 or by calling 1-800-273-TALK (8255)​.

The Carnation murders

When it comes to these murders, the events of the 2007 crime itself weren't argued at the trial, says Fox News: There was less of a question of guilt and more of a question of exactly what to do with the two people convicted of the horrendous Christmas Even murders that took place in Carnation, Washington.

According to what was presented at the trial, Michele Anderson and her boyfriend, Joseph McEnroe, plead guilty to the eight-hour series of events that left six of her family dead. The first victims were her parents, Wayne and Judy, who were killed inside their home before being dragged outside. Then, Anderson and McEnroe waited for the arrival of her brother, Scott, his wife, Erica, and their children, three-year-old Nathan and five-year-old Olivia. Erica survived long enough to call 911.

When it came time to present a motive, prosecutors said that it was jealousy: They presented Anderson as unhappy and jealous of her brother's family, and felt that she had been cheated out of money. McEnroe testified, "She treated me like an attack dog, a guard dog," and recounted the scene, "It's smoky, it smelled of blood and death." McEnroe and Anderson were both sentenced to six life terms without parole (via Fox News).

The Yazdanpanah family

It was around 11:30 a.m. on Christmas Day, 2011, that police from the Grapevine Police Department in Texas were alerted to a 911 call. The caller simply whispered, "Help me," before the call was terminated, and when law enforcement investigated, they found a grisly scene had unfolded as a family opened their Christmas gifts.

Seven bodies were discovered at the Grapevine apartment, and according to ABC News, reports alleged that Aziz Yazdanpanah had shown up at the apartment dressed as Santa Claus. Then, he had reportedly opened fire, killing his wife, Nasrin — whom he was separated from — his son and daughter, Ali and Nona, his sister-in-law and brother-in-law, Hossein and Zohreh Rahmaty, and his niece, Sahra Zarei. He then died by suicide.

Law enforcement called it "the worst homicide we've ever had," and as they interviewed friends and family of the deceased, a picture began to emerge. Those who knew them suggested that the relationship started going downhill after Yazdanhanah got out of the mortgage business, and the resulting financial difficulties — coupled with the success of his wife's beauty salon — put overwhelming pressure on him. Still, CBS News reported Sgt. Robert Eberling's explanation: "We really don't have a clear idea why he did this. Sometimes there's not really a good explanation for irrational behavior."

Sharon Whelan and her daughters

In 2008, Brian Hennessey was a 23-year-old local living in Ireland's Windgap, a town in Co. Kilkenny. According to the Irish Independent, he later admitted that it was early Christmas morning when he broke into the home of a woman he didn't know, raped her, then strangled her. Before fleeing the scene, he set fire to her home, knowing her two daughters — seven-year-old Zarah and two-year-old Nadia — were asleep in their beds.

In 2021, Whelan's brother, John (pictured), recalled the devastation and grief that was still fresh years later — especially knowing that as locals rushed into the burning home to try to save Sharon and her daughters, the man who had set the fire in the first place mingled with the crowd of onlookers.

The following year, the Irish Examiner reported that John Whelan was going to be back before the parole board again, asking that they not release the man who confessed to killing his sister and nieces. In the years since their murders, he has been a consistent voice in a campaign for a change to Ireland's laws which — at the time of Sharon Whelan's murder — allowed convicted murderers to apply for parole after just seven years. That was later raised to 12, but the legislation that victims' families are hoping to see passed would allow judges to give a life sentence.

The Sodder children

It was 1945, and Christmas Eve in Fayetteville, West Virginia; the Smithsonian says that even though what really happened that night is unknown, the general consensus is that it wasn't an accident. Mother Jennie Sodder had been awakened by a noise on the roof at some point in the middle of the night. Hearing nothing else, she returned to bed, only to wake up around half an hour later. That, says George Bragg, author of "West Virginia Unsolved Murders" (via NPR), is when she realized the house was on fire and scrambled to alert her family.

Neighbors, meanwhile, tried to rouse the fire department — but it's also not exactly clear why it took them seven hours to respond, in spite of being only about two and a half miles away. But it gets even stranger. Five Sodder children didn't make it out of the house that night: 14-year-old Maurice Sodder and his siblings — 12-year-old Martha, 9-year-old Louis, 8-year-old Jennie, and 5-year-old Betty.

When the burned remains of the house were examined, the only traces of human remains that were found were a few pieces of bone and remains of some internal organs. The investigation wasn't finished when father George Sodder bulldozed the site and planted flowers for his children ... although whether they were dead or missing remained unclear. But there were plenty of suspicious occurrences: The man who tried to sell them fire insurance and didn't appreciate them declining to buy. Strange people had been seen watching the house and the children ... and even stranger phone calls. Telephone wires that had been cut. What happened?

[Featured image by Jimmy McIntyre - Editor HDR One Magazine via Wikimedia Commons | Cropped and scaled | CC BY-SA 2.0]

Willie Howard

The death of 15-year-old Willie Howard came just after Christmas of 1944, and for those who killed him, the fact that the Black teen had given a Christmas card to a white coworker was justification enough. In the card in question, Howard signed it simply, "With L," (or love). He then wrote a follow-up letter apologizing for his forwardness, hoping that someday, Black and white people would be equal, and continuing: "I love your name. I love your voice. For a S.H. (sweetheart), you are my choice."

The card was given to a girl named Cynthia Goff, and according to the Equal Justice Initiative, it was her father and two of his friends who first kidnapped Howard from his home, and then took his father from work. The two were driven to the Suwanee River, where Willie was held at gunpoint and told he had a choice: Jump, or be shot.

According to the affidavit his mother later gave, her husband returned home and told her that their son wouldn't be returning. Ever. The teenager's body was recovered the following day and immediately buried without a funeral, and his parents left town shortly after. According to The Baltimore Sun, no one was ever held accountable, and no one was ever arrested, much less put on trial and convicted.

If you or a loved one has experienced a hate crime, contact the VictimConnect Hotline by phone at 1-855-4-VICTIM or by chat for more information or assistance in locating services to help. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911.

Katie Locke

According to the BBC, Carl Langdell already had a record when he met 23-year-old history teacher Katie Locke. The two started chatting on the dating site Plenty of Fish, where he had been talking to as many as 20 women at a time. This was in spite of the fact that he had marks on his record for threatening a girlfriend in 2009, assaulting his brother in 2014, and threatening to kill his girlfriend's sister in 2015. Placed under the supervision of a mental health profession that same year, it was later revealed that he had told one of his nurses that he fantasized about killing a woman, stripping her, and sexually assaulting her corpse.

And on Christmas Eve of 2015, Locke met up with the man she thought was the owner of a law firm, for a first date that ended with her strangulation, murder, and post-mortem assault.

The BBC reported that the entire system was widely condemned for their failure to share information between organizations overseeing Langdell's case, which included two mental health trusts overseen by the NHS, probation services, and several police forces. That lack of information sharing was blamed for his release on a suspended sentence and, ultimately, Locke's murder. Langdell was found guilty and sentenced to 26 years in prison, but died in 2021 while still being held at Wakefield Prison.

Ed and Minnie Maurin

No one ever knows when that moment is going to happen — the moment when everything changes. For the children of Ed and Minnie Maurin, that moment was Christmas Eve of 1985, when the bodies of the elderly Washington couple were found in a wooded area not far from their home. They had been reported missing on Dec. 19, when the 81- and 83-year-olds weren't home when their family gathered for a Christmas party. On the 20th, their car was discovered, covered with blood. Although there were suspects, the main people of interest moved away — to Alaska — not long afterward, and it wasn't until July of 2012 that Rick Riffe was arrested by Alaska authorities in connection with the killings.

His brother, John, was also a person of interest and died the week before Rick was arrested. According to ABC News, law enforcement said that the couple was kidnapped, driven to their bank, forced to withdraw $8,500, then shot at point-blank range before being dumped in the woods, where they were later discovered. The Lewis County Siren reported that Riffe (then 55 years old) was found guilty in 2013, and the Maurins' children — now also in their 80s — were present to see justice done after decades.

The Maurins' son, Dennis, later explained it was the fulfillment of a promise he made years ago: "At their funeral, I laid my hand on their casket and I said, 'I will find out who did this.'"

Atkins murders

It's no secret that 2020 was a terrible year, and for one family in Atkins, Arkansas, it ended with the most unimaginable tragedy.

Five people were found dead in what ABC News originally reported as a homicide that had taken place on Christmas Eve. Details were initially scarce, and it wasn't until later that NBC identified the dead as 7-year-old Danielle Collins, 10-year-old Levenah Countryman, 12-year-old Abigail Heflin, and adults Patricia Patrick and Jaquita Chase.

At the time of the identification came a stunning revelation: One of the dead was also believed to be the perpetrator: Chase, who was alleged to have killed the other adult — her mother — and her three children in a murder-suicide. The Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported that the home the family members were discovered in had been locked and sealed from the inside and that no one had been seen entering or leaving the property since Dec. 23. Chase's brother, Justin, broke down the front door to gain entry, and according to what her ex-husband told CBS News, there was no motive immediately apparent. "All I can think about it, I hope Jesus was there holding them girls," said Benjamin Chase.